KABUL: “We recommend that U.S. forces do not leave on May 1, 2021 unless the conditions in the February 2020 agreements (the U.S. Taliban Doha deal and the U.S.-Afghanistan Declaration) are made,” General (Retd) Joseph Dunford, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during most of Donald Trump’s presidency and also commanded U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan tells Tolo News’ Shabeer Ahmadi in an exclusive interview. Dunford is co-chair of the Afghanistan Study Group (ASG), a bipartisan U.S. Congress mandated panel under the United States Institute of Peace that submitted a report requested by Congress on February 4. The formulation for negotiations is ‘nothing is agreed upon until everything is agreed upon’, the former highest-ranking U.S. military officer said, adding, “we clearly outline areas of conditionality that must be addressed, in our view, before U.S. forces could be withdrawn”. He pointed out: “all of the conditions are outlined in the February 2020 agreement and would have to be verified and implemented with very specific measures and we certainly know how to do this”.
Answering Shabeer Ahmadi’s question on whether there “can be a peaceful Afghanistan without eliminating the sanctuaries of terrorist groups inside Pakistani territory,” the former Commander of all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan said there is no question that “plays a very critical part of any future peace in Afghanistan.” When pressed on whether he thinks “it has been addressed in the current Doha deal,” Dunford admitted “it’s not addressed in the current Doha deal.”
The ASG recommendations offer a possible way forward for the Biden administration which, like the earlier one, sees no military solution in Afghanistan but seems more sceptical of the Taliban’s commitment to a negotiated peace. Although the administration is not required to accept the ASG’s recommendations, the report is expected to influence U.S. policy because the study group was created by the Congress in a bipartisan 2019 vote. Separately, the Biden administration has announced it is reviewing the peace agreement.
The U.S. agreed at Doha to fully withdraw by May 2021, starting by reducing troop levels from 14,000 to 8,600 by July 2020. The Trump administration went further, reducing to about 4,500 in the summer of 2020 and it cutting further, to 2,500, just days before President Joe Biden took office. The current total is the lowest since 2001, the year the United States invaded Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 attacks.
(By arrangement with Tolo News)